Written specially for the Vikalp Sangam website
What does it take to upcycle any waste material into a product that is beautiful, serves a basic function and will prevent that material from ending up in a landfill for a few more years?
Jay and Jothsna Rege, were simply inspired by an article that spoke of the possibility of using waste tyres as soles for shoes and dove into exploring this idea to create a sustainable business. They called it Paaduks – a derivative of the Sanskrit word Paaduka which essentially means footwear.
Paaduks is two years old already and in these initial years the challenges in working with waste have become quite evident to the two enthusiasts.
Tyres come in various shapes and sizes and locating the correct thickness and type of rubber was their first step. After an initial experimentation they settled on using airplane tyres – which gave them a rubber sole that was uniform in thickness and did not have a strong smell.
Paaduks sources its tyres from scrap dealers. This is the easiest way to get what they need as going to the source of the waste was impossible. Tyre manufacturers and airplane manufacturers do not take responsibility for the post consumer waste their industry creates and do not track where the materials end up.
The upper part of the shoe uses other fresh materials such as handloom cloth and a thinner synthetic lining. Experiments with natural materials such as cork, proved unreliable.
The Paaduks shoes are made through a combination of hand and machine work.
Keeping the initial infrastructural investments low, the Paaduks team outsources machine work and then supervises the hand done aspects of the shoe making. Wandering in the lanes of Thakkar Bappa colony in Chembur they were able to locate a few cobblers who were willing to experiment with them. The cobbler society, like other artisanal communities is strictly divided hierarchically in terms of labour. Shoe makers are not to be mistaken for the mochis that repair shoes and sometimes those that specialise in womens wear will not work on mens wear and vice versa. Introducing a new product into this structure took some convincing by the Paaduks team.
The shoe industry currently severely exploits the shoe makers and Paaduks decided that they would not buy into this mainstream model. Paaduks pays fair prices for the labour for the shoes they manufacture, also taking a further interest in the living conditions and basic needs of the shoe makers and their families.
The biggest challenge to the team has been that consumers are just not interested in their effort with upcycling. Neither end consumers nor distributors buy the product for the story behind it, their focus being mainly on design and affordability. This means that the Paaduks shoes have to compete alongside mainstream shoes, while putting in an extra effort in working with waste.
What is the lifespan of a Paaduks shoe? Jay assures us that it would be very similar to a mainstream shoe, a few years for sure. The sole of the shoe being made of tough rubber would outlive the upper parts and could possibly be returned to the Paaduks team to be re used or remade, in the future.
For now, the Paaduks team is offering one more solution to the rubber tyre waste problems by designing beautifully elegant shoes with soul!
This article is part of a series under the Green Idea campaign called Beauty of Recycling conducted by eCoexist and Studio Alternatives and sponsored by the Government of Maharashtra, Environment Department. The team aims to raise awareness about the aesthetic and financial potential of recycling.